Dec 27, 2003 6:43 am


This promises to be fun. It’s also an opportunity for me to practice classic blogging, bringing material of interest to historians into this space as a jumping-off point for discussion, rather than the long, meandering mini-essays I put up at my own site.

For all that I am planning to focus more narrowly on history and historiography here, though, I am going to make my first entry about a computer game, namely, the recently release Medal of Honor: Rising Sun, which is set in the Pacific theater of World War II. As the web-based comic strip Penny Arcade pointed out, there is something very strange about the fact that this game is not only being marketed actively in Japan but is selling reasonably well there.

You could conclude this says something about computer games or about Japan, but I think it is instead a continuing sign of the strange disconnect between the popular global representation of World War II and the way that World War II veterans themselves have depicted the war. The thing that bothered me most about the wave of celebrations of “the greatest generation” that Tom Brokaw and Steven Spielberg helped to kick off was not so much the gooey sentimentality that accompanied so much of it, but the active forgetting of the skepticism and pragmatism expressed by so many veterans themselves about the war effort and its leadership, produced in part due to the collision between a citizen army and an entrenched military bureaucracy.

Even works of light entertainment about World War II used to be suffused with that attractively cynical, wary attitude towards authority and the pretenses of leadership: Spike Milligan’s Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall or the film The Dirty Dozen, for example.

It seems to me that it might be a good time to get back in touch with that much more complex sensibility about World War II (and thus war in general--Anthony Swofford’s Jarhead is a nice latter-day inheritor of this perspective) and that even computer games could work to that end.

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